When the absurd becomes amusing
With injuries to Howard, Gasol only their latest obstacles, all Lakers can do is laugh
At the very least, you have to say that for the Los Angeles Lakers.
All the dysfunction, drama and debilitating injuries that came after their landscape-altering trades for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard this summer, all that came after they did everything a franchise that measures itself by championships and nothing else should do.
After getting knocked out of the playoffs in the second round two years in a row, the Lakers went out and landed two future Hall of Famers with every reason to check their egos and assumptions at the door and do what was necessary to win each of their first titles.
They got younger and more athletic with Howard. They got the elite point guard they haven't had in decades in Nash. Lakers ownership green-lighted a record $99.2 million payroll. They spent the extra money to keep key role players such as Jordan Hill. They filled out the roster with savvy veterans such as Antawn Jamison and specialists such as Jodie Meeks. They even managed to rid themselves of Andrew Bynum before his body completely betrayed him.
It was all set up so perfectly.
And then perfect became the enemy of anything good.
Monday's news that Howard has a torn labrum in his right shoulder and is out a minimum of a week, Pau Gasol will miss at least two games with a concussion and Hill is out with a hip injury are just the latest, loudest thuds in a season that's basically been played in a relentless thunderstorm.
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"You just feel like at some point you hit rock bottom, and then it's time when the only place you can go is up."
You hope, at least.
So is this it? Is this the bottom?
That's impossible to say yet. But the Lakers were laughing, not crying Monday when they got this latest news.
Laughing because, well, what else can you do when things go this wrong?
Before boarding a flight for Houston, Bryant tweeted out a picture of himself and Howard pretending to fight in the Lakers training room with coach Mike D'Antoni lying on a training table between them, amusingly terrified at the scene.
Bryant is smiling as he sets up in a southpaw stance. Howard is serious as he raises his injured right shoulder as high as it can go with what looks to be five bags of ice taped on it.
It was the perfect response to a report in the New York Daily News late Sunday night that asserted the two stars had almost come to blows after a loss to Philadelphia on New Year's Day.
To a man, every Laker who was asked Monday denied any such altercation occurred. But in a sign of the way things have gone for the Lakers this season, that story already felt old by the time the subject came up after Monday's walk-through.
Who can worry about chemistry when three key players' anatomies are working against them?
Who can worry about winning a title in June when it's going to be tough to find a credible NBA frontcourt for the rest of January?
The playoffs? How about just getting through the next three games without losing any more key players?
The first reaction to all this news is to grab a shovel and start filling in the plot.
The next is to gawk at that $99.2 million payroll and start figuring out if there are any personnel changes that can whip it into shape if this Lakers season really is kaput.
But in the next breath, you look at the roster and realize it still has Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant on it.
"No one is going to feel sorry for us," said Nash. "We have to take the challenge, embrace it. No matter how many lumps we take, we can't give up. You can't feel sorry for yourself, you got to keep battling, and if you keep battling, you give yourself a chance for good things to happen. But if you feel sorry for yourself, if you complain, if you make excuses, that's when, frankly, I think you delay the turnaround or prohibit the turnaround."
That, of course, is what a future Hall of Famer is supposed to say when times are grim.
But there's a deeper point Nash is making. One that applied even before everyone taller than 6-foot-10 on the Lakers roster was lost to an injury Monday.
This Lakers team was constructed to win now and win it all. Nothing less was acceptable. It's why Mike Brown was fired after losing all eight preseason games and going 1-4 to start the season. And it's why the rest of the NBA cares so deeply about a team with a 15-18 record that sits 11th place in the Western Conference.
But perhaps it's also why this team has underachieved so badly, even when everyone was healthy.
The strain, the pressure of it all has just been too much.
In happier times Sunday night, following a demoralizing loss to the Denver Nuggets, (yes, in the wake of Monday's injury news, Sunday qualifies as a happier time), Dwight Howard explained the situation perfectly.
It was late and his shoulder was throbbing, but he did not rush off into the luxury car that was waiting to chauffeur him home. He had a point to make and he needed both hands to make it -- pain be damned.
"You know when you're at the beach?" Howard said. "And you bend down to grab some sand. What happens when you grab it too tightly? It all falls out, right. And what happens when you don't grab it tight enough? It all blows away, right? You have to hold it just tight enough. Just right.
"That's what we're trying to figure out. That's what we're still trying to figure out."